The Denver Post
Colorado's prison population is falling so quickly that state officials are once again considering closing prisons — a tough discussion given that prisons are often big employers in the counties where they are located.
"It looks like the whole system should be shrinking," said state Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, at a recent legislative hearing where Joint Budget Committee members discussed the decline in inmates and a consultant's ongoing study of which prisons should be closed or repurposed.
The study is due June 30.
In December, there were 2,109 empty beds in prisons across Colorado. Most were in private prisons, and the state is no longer paying for the space.
Budget and criminal-justice statisticians predict the number of unoccupied beds will rise to between 2,600 and 3,600 by June 2014.
Eliminating that much capacity could shut down two to 10 prisons, depending on the size of the facilities.
Colorado is already at 7,500 fewer inmates than it once expected in 2013 and has closed three state prisons.
"We think that is a really, really big deal," said Roxane White, chief of staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper, referring to both the continuing decline in prisoners and the prospect of saving money with further prison closures.
The choice of which prisons to close is complicated, state corrections officials and legislators say. The state must still have a mix of minimum- to maximum-security facilities. Some prisons are designed to use fewer guards, which reduces operating costs. It's not generally easy for prison staff to move from one city to another. Maintenance and energy use vary from prison to prison. Colorado, for example, still operates two prisons that opened more than a century ago.
"We are wrestling with what beds do we not need," Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements told a legislative committee recently.
The decline in prisoners is good news for the state, which saves tens of millions of dollars in the cost of housing them. But closing prisons can be bad news for the small towns that rely on them for jobs. Olney Springs in southeastern Colorado, for example, has a population of less than 400. A private prison there has room for 1,700 inmates.
"Unfortunately, a lot of those smaller communities were sold a bill of goods about (how) this is going to be good for your community — and it did create an economic boom for them," said Douglas Wilson, the state's chief public defender. "But now with the populations going down, I think the legislature's going to have to make some tough decisions about if they close, and if so, where do they close the prisons."
Experts point to a mix of reasons for the decline in prison population — including fewer prosecutions and changes in the way the prison system is run.
The state's felony crime rate dropped by a third from 2002 to 2011, Clements said. Possible reasons for that include reductions in punishment for marijuana-related crimes, successes of youth and gang-intervention programs, and an aging population that has resulted in fewer young people getting in trouble.
In addition, Clements, who became the state's corrections chief under Hickenlooper, brought a very different attitude from his predecessors, Wilson said. Parole and probation officers are giving second chances for minor infringements, like a single failed drug test or failure to show up for an appointment. Those offenders are not being sent back to prison.
A new state law also allows prisoners to earn more time off their sentences for good behavior, Clements said. Another new law lowered the penalties for minor drug possession, Wilson said. There is no longer a 24-year sentence for a parolee who walks away from his registered address at a homeless shelter.
The savings to Colorado taxpayers will vary significantly with the state's choices on what to cut. Not sending an inmate to a private prison saves the state about $20,000 a year. Closing the Fort Lyon prison in Las Animas saved nearly $27,000 per inmate. Shutting down one wing at the Trinidad prison has saved $5,800 per prisoner.
White told a health conference six weeks ago in Denver that the governor hopes to move the prison savings into health care, including better care in prisons. That might reduce prison population further, as a third of Colorado's inmates have mental illnesses.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
The Denver Post
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — After running for governor as a supporter of the death penalty, Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday that the experience of signing a death warrant for the first time caused his thinking on the issue to "evolve" and that he would sign legislation outlawing the punishment if legislators were to send him such a bill.
The Democratic governor doesn't plan to make repealing the death penalty part of his legislative agenda for this year's session, nor does he intend to ask any lawmaker to introduce such legislation, Beebe's spokesman, Matt DeCample, said. Several top lawmakers said it's unlikely legislators would propose a death penalty repeal.
Beebe said he changed his mind about the death penalty after having to sign his first death warrant.
"The awesome burden of being the last person to have to sign one of those things sobers you differently than talking about it in the abstract," Beebe said.
His remarks came in response to an audience question during his appearance at the Political Animals Club meeting at the governor's mansion.
Since taking office in 2007, Beebe has approved four executions, but none of those have been carried out because of various court challenges.
In signing the death warrants, Beebe said, he pored over "every word of the testimony" in search of a "scintilla" of doubt about the conviction. He said in all four cases, his review of the court papers convinced him of the person's guilt but that the experience of having to sign the order shifted his feelings about the death penalty.
at 11:43 AM
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Denver’s Martin Luther King Jr. Marade
Michelle Alexander sums up her book by stating: “Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and largely less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
“The New Jim Crow in the Age of Colorblindness”, by Michelle Alexander
Martin Luther King Jr.
The event is usually very large and often somewhat confusing at the start. Therefore, we will gather at the corner of 16th and Esplanade (directly west of the East High School Main Entrance.) Look for our big blue Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition banner
PROGRAM: There is a short program starting at 10:00 AM at the “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream Monument”, in Denver City Park. The Marade starts at 10:45. CCJRC staff will be at 16th and Esplanade starting at 9:30 AM.
at 10:34 AM
Monday, January 14, 2013
His doctors have told Darrell Havens that surgery could help relieve his deteriorating condition, but the wheelchair-bound inmate's keepers in the Colorado Department of Corrections aren't exactly eager to okay the operation -- or to release him to seek care on his own. Havens, who was left a quadriplegic by a police shooting in 2007, recently had a clemency application denied by DOC executive director Tom Clements.
State inmates must have served at least a third of the sentence to be eligible for a commutation by the governor. Havens has served only four years of a twenty-year sentence for car theft and attempted assault, but he'd applied for a waiver of the usual criteria because of what's known in the bureaucracy as "catastrophic medical problems." But the application needed approval from Clements before moving on to the governor's desk, and last month Clements turned him down.
"I can find no reason to grant a waiver to the criteria for executive clemency at this time," Clements wrote in a letter to Havens. "I would encourage you to continue with your current positive institutional behavior."
In 2007, the nineteen-year-old Havens was the target of a sting operation by an auto theft task force led by detectives from the Arvada Police Department. Driving a stolen Audi, he was boxed in by undercover police vehicles in a Target parking lot. As recounted in my 2010 feature "Wheel Man," Havens was unarmed and his vehicle was pinned against other cars. But a detective who fired nine rounds into his car told investigators that the Audi was trying to break free and could have run him over if he hadn't acted to defend himself.
Havens has disputed police accounts of the shooting. An affidavit filed by Ellis Armistead, a former Lakewood police officer, contends that the police statements are inconsistent and that the situation didn't justify deadly force.
The shooting left Havens with almost no mobility -- he has limited movement in one arm, enough to operate a motorized chair -- and ongoing health problems. One of the most disabled prisoners in the entire system, his care is estimated to cost upwards of $200,000 a year. With the support of DOC officials, he'd sought and had been granted a medical parole in 2010, but it was abruptly canceled after Arvada police chief Don Wick objected to his release. The Arvada city attorney's office later offered to drop its opposition to his parole if Havens would withdraw a civil lawsuit against the detective who shot him; Havens attorney William Muhr called the proposition "completely improper."
Depositions are now underway in the lawsuit, but a trial date has not been set. Meanwhile, the state of Havens's health continues to worsen. After the 2011 closure of Fort Lyon, DOC's prison for inmates with special medical needs, he was transferred to an infirmary at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center. Havens claims his care is now largely in the hands of inmate orderlies rather than doctors or nurses. Medical records indicate that he's battled recurrent infections, and one provider reported his prognosis as poor "given the likelihood of future serious infections."
Doctors at Denver Health Medical Center have urged surgery to deal with pain and degeneration associated with Havens's abnormal spinal curvature, a condition known as scoliosis, as well as a wrist fusion procedure. But DOC administrators have declined to approve the surgery.
"My back is getting worse, with four fractured vertebrae, and immediate surgery is the only answer," Havens wrote in a recent letter to Westword.
His sister Chrystal, who visits Havens often, says the DOC's minimalist approach to treating him is costing much more in the long run. "The last two weeks, he was taken to the hospital four different times for emergency care," she says. Because of his chronic infections and compromised immune system, she was told last week that she would need to wear a mask and gown to visit him.
After Clements rejected his clemency application, Havens filed a notice of intent to sue the state over his medical care. Among other complaints, the document claims that neglectful night-shift attendants have left him to lie in urine and feces for hours at a time: "I have brought all these issues up through chains of commands, but it has not done anything, in fact they just run and ignore all my letters, kites, phone calls from families.... These are all acts of cruel and unusual punishment, medical malpractice, as well as medical neglect and failure to properly train by the Department of Corrections."
at 7:01 PM
Sunday, January 13, 2013
The Denver Post
By David Land
Re: "Capital punishment in Colorado: Foes weigh push to repeal," Dec. 26 news story.
It appears that the Colorado legislature is finally poised to give serious consideration to ending the barbaric, money-sucking relic of bygone years known as the death penalty.
Since 1968, Colorado has executed one person. The article in the Dec. 26 Denver Post noted that the death penalty annually costs Colorado taxpayers $1.5 million. It also quotes Attorney General John Suthers as saying that there are times we need the death penalty "for the safety of the people."
Mr. Suthers never explains how executing one person in the last 45 years, at a cost of approximately $50 million, has made our state safer. Spending tens of millions for one execution seems like the most preposterous waste of money imaginable, especially when one considers the law enforcement programs which could have been funded with those scarce dollars.
Mr. Suthers simply resorts to the time-tested tactic of whipping up hysteria over truly heinous crimes and offering a "solution" to the problem which involves the government spending more millions to kill people. There is not one shred of evidence that the per capita murder rate in Texas, which executes someone almost every two weeks at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, has been affected in any way by the regular imposition of the death penalty.
No one disputes the fact that the system currently in place as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court makes the death penalty far more costly than life without parole. Mandatory appeals consume resources, as do penalty phase trials, which almost always involve complex testimony from psychologists, neurologists and other specialized professionals, all of whom must be paid by taxpayers, as no one facing the death penalty has the resources necessary to hire their own lawyers. The public foots the bill for the prosecutors, the defense attorneys and all of the experts testifying on both sides.
When Jared Loughner pleaded guilty in Arizona for the Gabby Giffords shootings and was sentenced to life without parole, the nightmare of court appearances ended for all of the remaining victims. They would not be forced to testify at trial, they would not have to endure endless appeals with the fear always lurking in their minds that he would get a new trial and they would once again be forced to relive the nightmare on the witness stand. He will be incarcerated forever, and the victims can focus on healing and not on a court case which will never end.
Nathan Dunlap has been on Colorado's death row for 20 years. Edward Montour's death sentence was reversed and he is back for a new trial 10 years after the crime. Even if he is again sentenced to death, 30 years will have passed between the crime and the punishment and millions of dollars will have been wasted.
It is time for the legislature to stop pouring money down this barbaric drain. As any responsible law enforcement officer will tell you, killing people is not the solution to crime in our society. The death penalty in Colorado should be abolished.
at 8:07 AM
New York TImes
At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 28, 2010, Conor McBride, a tall, sandy-haired 19-year-old wearing jeans, a T-shirt and New Balance sneakers, walked into the Tallahassee Police Department and approached the desk in the main lobby. Gina Maddox, the officer on duty, noticed that he looked upset and asked him how she could help. “You need to arrest me,” McBride answered. “I just shot my fiancée in the head.” When Maddox, taken aback, didn’t respond right away, McBride added, “This is not a joke.”
at 8:03 AM
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
The Denver Post
As Colorado lawmakers consider repealing the death penalty, Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett said he would most likely be in favor of a bill doing away with capital punishment, a stance that is not surprising given Boulder's history -- or lack thereof -- with the practice.
Three years after a previous attempt to end the death penalty failed, some legislators -- including Boulder's Rep. Claire Levy -- have said they are once again looking into doing so. While Garnett said he would have to review the specific language of any proposed legislation to end it, he did say he supported doing away with the punishment.
"As the D.A. in Boulder I want to be a voice for a progressive approach to law enforcement and public safety," Garnett said. "I don't think the death penalty is a tool that is useful or should be a part of law enforcement in Colorado."
Garnett said the problem with the death penalty is a practical one. Very few cases ever meet the criteria to seek the death penalty, and because trials involving the death penalty take longer and often see more appeals, they cost prosecutors more to take to trial.
at 8:14 AM
at 8:13 AM